Van Gogh in Auvers-sur-Oise

Auberge Ravoux © Miyazaki

The exhibition “Van Gogh à Auvers-sur-Oise, les derniers mois” at the Musée d’Orsay (to February 4, 2024 ) is an excellent opportunity to visit the town where the artist made his last paintings.

Vincent van Gogh spent his final days in Auvers-sur-Oise. In this picturesque village located just a short train ride from Paris you can walk in Van Gogh’s footsteps, from his attic room at the Auberge Ravoux to the places where he planted his easel: the church of Auvers, the house of the painter Daubigny, the house of his friend Doctor Gachet, and the field where he painted his last work, “Wheat Field With Crows” (1890).The Auberge Ravoux, situated just next to the town hall, is the inn where van Gogh lived, ate, and painted. From his living quarters to his diet to his array of guests, the Auberge keeps van Gogh’s inspiration alive. Upstairs features his modest attic room, an extraordinary recreation of his creative, melancholy presence.  Downstairs, the restaurant maintains the same spirit and decor as Van Gogh’s days and is open for customers.

Ask a waiter to tell you about “Van Gogh’s Table”: this back-room spot was his prime seat for people-watching. In addition, the book “Van Gogh’s Table” by Alexandra Leaf and Fred Leeman (Artisan, 2001) is consultable at the bar. Co-written by an art historian and a food historian, this cookbook centers around the Auberge Ravoux.

The 50 recipes, such as rosemary roast chicken and tarte Tatin, are representative of van Gogh’s era but have been adapted for contemporary tastes. The recipes are paired with photos of the Auberge, and, of course, van Gogh’s paintings. Peruse its pages while you boire un verre. Doctor of Art Paul Ferdinand Gachet  – later made famous by van Gogh’s “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” (1890) was a local doctor passionate about art. Gachet painted in his free time and often invited fellow painters to his house to work.

Among the illustrious invitees were Pissarro, Cézanne, Manet, Monet, and Renoir… all ‘unknown’ at the time! It was in 1890, at Pissarro’s suggestion, that Gauchet agreed to see van Gogh, who famously suffered from crippling depression and seizures. Van Gogh’s work was of great interest to the doctor, and Gachet advised him that throwing himself into his work was the best remedy for his illness. Thus began a close friendship that would endure until Van Gogh’s suicide on 27th July 1890.

Van Gogh said of Doctor Gachet: “I have found a friend in Dr Gachet… and something of a new brother, since we are so similar both mentally and physically.” The painter spent the last 70 days of his life at Gachet’s house, under his care. It was the spring of 1890. Inspired by the magnificent pastoral view offered by the doctor’s window, Van Gogh was filled with new life.

He painted a total of 72 canvases – a frenzy similar to one he experienced in 1889 after his release from a mental hospital in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, in which he painted “Starry Night” (1889). Unfortunately, there are no original paintings by Van Gogh to be found in Auvers today. Doctor Gachet’s collection, donated by his son, is now housed in the Orsay Museum in Paris. In its stead, Gachet’s house now features the work of a trio of contemporary painters – Paul Praud, Marianne Le Vexier, and Bernard Vercruyce – as well as a sculptor, Pascale de Laborderie.

The rest of the town celebrates the turn of the century as well. Down the rue des Meulières is a view of the “Ferme du Four” (literally “Oven Farm”). This 18th-century site inspired van Gogh’s painting “Maisons à Auvers” (Houses in Auvers), currently on display at the Boston Museum. Other notable sights in Auver-sur-Oise include the quirky Absinthe Museum, created in the spirit of fin-de-siecle literary cafés (open weekends 11am-6pm and also from June 15 to Sept 15, Wed., Thrus., & Fri. 1:30-6pm) and the Daubigny Museum. This museum is worth a good look, as it consists of Daubigny’s house and studio. It is restored to period decoration and the walls are lined with works by its guests: such as Corot, Daumier, and more.

How to get there

By car: Take the A15 motorway, direction Cergy-Pontoise, exit number 7 (Saint-Ouen-l’Aumône) then the RT184 direction Amiens-Beauvais. Exit Méry-sur-Oise/Auvers-sur-Oise.  Once in the village, follow directions for Auvers-sur-Oise

By train: From Gare Saint Lazare take line J, direction Pontoise, then change to line H to Auvers-sur-Oise  or take RER C to  Pointoise and change to line H to Auvers.